The withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2005 had a profound effect upon those Jews who believe the coming of Messiah to be dependent upon their possession of the land given to them in Scripture.  According to the Bible, the idealized territory of Israel is supposed to stretch from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River.  In the west, it is to extend as far south as the Negev and the Brook of Egypt (the Wadi el Arish, marking the border with Egypt, about fifty miles southwest of Beersheba) and to include the land of the Phœnicians (Lebanon) in the north.  Thus, the domain of Israel would be a block of land measuring 300 by 550 miles.  This “Greater Israel” envisioned by religious Zionists, would be much larger than the present-day nation, which covers only about 50 by 200 miles.

          The expansion of Israeli territory to this extent has never been realized in history.  It would encompass the modern nations of Israel, Palestine (Gaza Strip and West-Bank), Jordan, southern Syria, western Iraq, and the northern tip of Saudi Arabia.  The description of Israel’s enlarged domain in the Bible is as follows:


On that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Brook of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

                     Genesis 15:18-21


Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law, saying, “Yahweh our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.  Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland, and in the Negev, and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the River Euphrates.  Behold, I have set the land before you.  Go in and take possession of the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.’”       Deuteronomy 1:5-8


After the death of Moses, the servant of Yahweh, Yahweh said to Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses, “Moses, my servant, is dead.  Now, therefore, arise.  Go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.”                             Joshua 1:1-4


          Religious Zionists still cling to the shattered dream of a “Greater Israel.”  And the same is true for fundamentalist Christians, who link Israel with the Second Coming of Christ.  When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a massive stroke on January 4, 2006, televangelist Pat Robertson stated that this was God’s punishment for the Gaza Strip disengagement.  Robertson had this to say:


“Sharon was personally a very likable person, and I am sad to see him in this condition, but I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel.  The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide My land.’  He was dividing God’s land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the European Union, the United Nations, or the United States of America.  God says, ‘This land belongs to Me.  You’d better leave it alone.’”


          This has been the position of so-called “redemptive” Zionists, who believe that the salvation of Israel and the world depends upon holding the land - which is to be “entirely sacred and without exalted heavenly manifestation.”  Thus, giving up part of Eretz Yisrael (“the Land of Israel”) stands in the way of final redemption through the coming of Messiah.

          Rabbi David Cohen wrote a book, The Spark Of The Light Of The Messiah, in which he said that the ninth of Av was significant as the day the Temple was destroyed, the day the First World War broke out, and the day that Messiah will be born - the darkest moment heralding the dawn.  To him, Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1967 was the dawn of messianic days.  Believers began taking the word for salvation, Yesha, and seeing in it an acronym for “Judea-Samaria-Gaza.”  Thus, when the Gaza Strip was given up to the Palestinians, the symbolic Yesha concept fell apart.

          One reaction to this in Israel has been an abandonment of messianism.  It has been observed that since 1967, there have been events that are hard to fit in with an unstoppable march toward redemption.  Others, holding to the original ideal, have moved toward a position of advocating violence, maintaining that Israel should take a “resolute” military policy, “not deterred by ‘moral’ or political considerations.”  Now, when Judaism puts the word “moral” in quotation marks, this is a sign of degraded religion.  (One is reminded of the justification of torture by supposedly “Christian” leaders for the war in Iraq.)

          Religious Zionists have become more antagonistic to the state for messing up their pet beliefs.  They had already held the belief that the Nation of Israel is only legitimate when Messiah comes.  Some hard-liners will, no doubt, throw their bodies in the way of any further withdrawal of Jews from Palestinian lands.

          As it is, the messianic hope is at jeopardy in Judaism.  Thus, an article, “Religious Zionism Without Messianism,” appeared in the November 14, 2005, issue of The Jerusalem Report.  An excerpt is given below:


     In a world with few heroes for religious Zionists to emulate, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook - or simply Rav Kook - stands out.  Kook, a fervent Zionist at a time when most Orthodox Jews were rabidly anti-Zionist, bravely embraced a vision of Jewish nationhood that all Jews could share.  As chief rabbi of Jaffa and, later, chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Palestine, he espoused the idea that every Jew - whether religious or alienated from Judaism - who participated in the building up of the Jewish return to the land and independence was a participant in God’s redemption.  All Zionists, in Kook’s eyes, played a role in bringing the messiah and healing the world...

     For many years, most religious Zionists followed the lead of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, son of the great visionary.  For the younger Kook, the events of 1967 - Israel’s lightning victory over its enemies - vindicated his father’s messianic understanding of the State of Israel; Israel’s triumph confirmed the coming redemption of the Jews and humanity...


          The magazine article concludes in the light of the Gaza disengagement that the expectation of the coming of Messiah must be set aside:


     The new challenge that Jewish law faces is how to exist for the first time in centuries in a society that is the result of Jewish sovereignty.  While Rav Kook’s attachment to the holiness of the Land of Israel should not be rejected, the return of land for peace or for any political strategy does not have to be seen as a betrayal of God’s plan to redeem the Jews and the world...The focus of the National Religious Party and all religious Zionists should be on souls, not real estate...In the aftermath of Gaza, we should focus not on the messianic redemption but on the day-to-day struggle to impart Jewish knowledge and identity to other Jews...The future of Israel resides in human souls, not in holy land.


          For the Bible literalist, the effect of Israel’s territory on eschatology now causes a profound dilemma.  This is why fundamentalists have been such ardent supporters of the Nation of Israel and the integrity of its borders.  They see any reduction in the size of the Holy Land as an impediment to the completion of God’s plan for the ages.

          Now, the fact of the matter, which everyone must face, is that the United Nations did not mean for Israel to occupy the entire territory of Palestine.  World opinion recognized the need for a Jewish homeland, but also saw that there must be some room for the original inhabitants.  This means that messianic expectations must be modified to fit with things as they are.

          Religious disappointments such as this have been numerous in the history of mankind.  Several times in the past, radical adventists have disengaged themselves from the world, put on white robes, and stood gazing into the heavens, waiting for the sky to fall.  Doomsday preachers are always bent on trying to decipher signs of the end times and forcing events to fit into a prescribed pattern.  And once again, as in the past, they have met with failure.  Jesus Himself warned against those who would “take the Kingdom by force” - making it come through acts of violence - like fighting for holy territory.

          In conclusion, there is no doubt that the end of the world is coming, but it will happen on a divine schedule that is not laid out and fixed by human plans and prognostications.

                                                                             Richard L. Atkins